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A Change in Scenery

Ten days after completing my final exam of 2016, I embarked on my first ever Euro-trip. As 27 March 2017, I have been on this extended vacation for a total of 114 days. Within my first two months, I had visited 2 continents, 11 countries and 24 cities…and that’s the beauty of exchange: the opportunities are absolutely endless. Zurich

I’m sure any prospective exchangee is well aware of the never-ending travel that comes with studying abroad, and so I’m here to implore those of you who still aren’t quite sure as to whether you should sign up for this roller coaster ride. As someone who has never lived out of home, my new found sense of freedom, independence and self-discovery has been truly intoxicating. And while I’ve travelled to many countries before, this entire experience has been out-of-this-world. It has been wonderful to not only learn of new cultures, languages and food, but to also live them. To name just a few of the incredible memories I’ve made thus far, I’ve:

  • Cycled through the busy streets of Amsterdam
  • Floated in the salty and muddy waters of the Dead Sea in Israel, waving to Jordan on the other side
  • Survived negative 20°C days and trudging through knee-deep snow in Poland
  • Consumed uncountable jugs of beer in Germany
  • Skied on secluded ski slopes in Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Went on a vampire-hunting expedition in Bran Castle (more popularly known as Dracula’s Castle)
  • Navigated through an ancient underground cave system in Hungary
  • Crossed continents in a matter of minutes in Turkey by sailing across the Bosphorus

That was all before I had even stepped foot into Zurich – a city that I’m now even more glad to have made my base for exchange. Having seen so much of Europe before heading to Switzerland, I’ve dedicated much of my time during the academic semester to explore what this beautiful country has to offer. As a result and understandably, my time in Switzerland has been defined by three key things: cheese, chocolate and the Alps. If you’re an outdoorsy person, then Switzerland is perfect for you. While there are no beaches in sight, going anywhere in Switzerland, especially hiking in the Alps, means that you’ll find taps with fresh mountain water, crisp alpine air and incredible views at every turn (scroll down if you don’t believe me). You’ll also most likely find a pristine aqua lake for you to have a picnic by and swim in. Quaint alpine towns with mountainous backdrops make for lovely stopovers, particularly when all the locals will greet you 100% of the time, and there’s cheese fondue or mulled wine involved. Another thing to keep in mind is that Switzerland is an amazing amalgamation of cultures, considering it is landlocked by France, Germany and Italy. A number of cultures and languages are in perfect harmonisation, and you get the benefits of each country without having to ever leave Switzerland! Who could say no to constant access to French, German and Italian food? Not I.

While all that sounds boundlessly fun, exchange frankly has not been short of a rollercoaster ride. After travelling for two months, I just wanted to settle into my new apartment, and I did just that. Although, it didn’t pan out the way I thought it would, and I ended being the first person to move into a 13-person flat. Bored and in need of friendly faces and attention, I booked a last-minute trip to Paris (to see family) within hours of moving in. My point here is that the beginning of exchange is slow, unsettling and rather quite difficult. Everyone’s conception of exchange is making loads of friends, going to loads of parties, and travelling to loads of exciting places. While all of that is true, the most important thing to keep in mind is to keep an open mind and allow things to run their course. It took a 30 minute phone conversation with a friend on exchange in Tilburg to make me realise that being in a new environment involves an adjustment period (duh). While you feel astonishingly alone for the first week or two, once classes start and you get in the groove of things, it only goes up from there.

Finally, to address the rumours: they are true. Switzerland is pretty damn expensive to live in. Though, you can rest assured that there are ways to save some cents that you could better use to book your next weekend trip. I’ve barely eaten out at restaurants (not even Maccas) because a meal costs a limb, and as a result, I’ve had to do monthly shopping trips in Germany and prepare basically every meal on my own. Public transport passes mean that you can travel to anywhere in Switzerland and enjoy certain activities for half the regular fare. There’s even a pass that allows you to travel absolutely anywhere in Switzerland for free between 7pm and 5am. As someone who was skeptical about the cost of living in Switzerland, I’ve managed to make huge savings here and there. Free access to university gyms and all fitness/sports classes is also a massive plus! I’d go on about the beautiful things Switzerland has to offer, but I’m still discovering them myself.

Richard Heng
Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws
University of Zurich, Switzerland

FlimsCaumasee (Lake Cauma)Lucerne (Mount Pilatus)Appenzell Alps (Hoher Kasten)

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